Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thanks for the Christmas Memory

Whenever we go to mass en masse, for other congregants, there is instant entertainment. No matter how disciplined one might be in focusing on the celebration itself, nine children of assorted ages have a way of creating unintentional distraction.

Christmas day was just such an experience. We were in the cry room at Saint John's, having force marched the kids after opening a present a piece to get dressed for Christmas mass 8:30.

It was 7:45.

Because we were pressed for time, we opted for the Parish closest to home, rather than our normal Church There was a cry room which provided excellent cover and sound proofing for the squirmy set. We took up two rows.

Other people came to the children's room to avoid the scruitiny of coming late on December 25th. Our kids were actually quite good given their own desire to be home diving through the wrapping paper discovering hidden treasures. My 20 month old played peekaboo with the family behind us and took every opportunity to point out every "baby" that she spotted in the room.

The four year old and three year old began a minor battle of wills over the mini chairs for kids and who should have the blue and who should have the red seat.

We got to the offeratory and my three year old darling cupie doll began to talk.

She explained to her brother behind her for reasons which will soon be obvious, "It's not right to pick your nose. Mom says it's wrong to pick your nose. You can't pick your nose. You can't pick your nose. You can't pick your nose." She did a little dance and song, "That's the rule, you can't pick your nose. It's wrong. It's wrong to pick your nose."

The two women who were across from us lost composure.
Merry Christmas.

P.S. Sorry I didn't post Sunday, I was feeling sick.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Ham is Served

The following piece ran in the Island Park News, December 19, 2008

Leftovers are seldom an issue at my home, except at Christmas when my husband in a fit of gastronomic nostalgia, always wants to serve ham. I don’t mind traditions, but there are some logistical issues with this one. 1) My husband buys a very large piece of meat. 2) Our children don’t like ham.

Christmas day is never the issue. Emotionally softened by the glow of the day and the pile of freshly acquired loot, the kids are willing to indulge their father by trying his favorite Yuletide meal. Knowing that there is fresh pumpkin or apple pie waiting for dessert probably helps too. The next day, leftover ham served with eggs will still get eaten. By day three, some of the older ones still consent to consume ham sandwiches if I serve them with chips. Day four, sounds of open revolt are beginning to be heard when dinner is served.

Seeking to avoid a revolution over Virginia ham, my beloved husband proposed playing a board game our daughter received for Christmas during dinner. The kids were keen to play. Setting out the game “Operation,” their father explained the “special” meal time rules.

Everyone had to play. Everyone was served a plate of pasta with the now offending Christmas ham mixed amongst the Fettuccini noodles. If you took on a job in the Operation game and touched the sides, not only would you lose your turn, you had to eat a bite of ham. If you refused to take a job, you had to eat two bites of ham. If you got the ham bone out successfully, you were exonerated from eating anymore of the ham at this meal and could move straight to pie. If you won the game, you could opt out of ham for the remaining duration of the ham’s existence.

The next day, when I offered to play operation, my daughter said, “How much ham do I have to eat?” Kids were offering to do chores to avoid the other white meat. By day six, positive reinforcement in the form of cold hard cash was insufficient to guarantee compliant consumption. A week into eating, it was no longer worth the emotional effort for any sentient adult to consider serving ham to a non ham eater.

Day twelve, the UPS truck pulled up. A large package had come from our family’s gift exchange with a note that said, “Sorry this is late. Merry Christmas! Love…” from one of those fancy gift mail food order catalogs.

“This special Virginia Ham was sent to you…” I read.

I called my husband. “Oh man, we’ve been eating ham for weeks.” He said. The kids grinned. Over the phone, my beloved heard the sounds of ham induce karma from his daughter. “Hey Dad, let’s play Operation.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Maryland is for Crabs

My mom sends Christmas Pajamas every year. Sometimes she worries that P.J’s aren’t the most exciting gift to get at Christmas, but they are seriously looked forward to every year by everyone.

This year, it was a Lobster motif. The pants had lobsters on a navy background. They were fun. The younger ones had those onsies with footies. After three days of wearing the lobster pajamas, I declared the sleepware needed a break, and a wash!

Getting dressed for bed, my three year old daughter was visibly upset. She marched up to me in her substitute night gown for the evening with a dark frowny face. “I Want My Crabs!” she snapped.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bittersweet Chocolate for Christmas

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Childhood is often described by adults as ideal. I cannot speak to this except to say perhaps they do not remember it clearly. Most of childhood involved the learning process that occurred after one got a skinned knee. Crawling did not get one where one wanted to go. Walking followed. Followed by falling. The world, one soon discovered, was not padded for one’s protection. Yet, we progressed onward, gaining a few calluses and coping techniques along the way that indicated our preferred method of problem solving, fight or flight.

Just as we became talking, walking, self sufficient individuals, the adults around us would pack us into a singular cage of similarly limited in accomplishment children and ask us to sit and stand on cue as we had never once done at home, for eight hours, five days a week.

Welcome to school, the real world. Surrounded by strangers that may or may not come to love us, who are indifferent to our success or failure, and who might eat our lunches, it was and remains for some of us, a time of trial we tried to forget. I concede, as a parent, I had forgotten.

Around six pm, my middle son, the one who is sly and clever and yet shockingly innocent, said very flatly, “I’ve had a bad day.” He had been picking on everyone since he got in the car but something in his voice said now was not the time to launch into a “If you treated your brother and sisters nicer…” type rant. “What’s up?”

He called me into the kitchen closet. It was a tad cramped and the quarters became less hospitable as three toddlers who knew this was where their two greatest treasures in life were, Mom and food, began trying to break down the door. I signaled we needed a better meeting space. Opening the door, the toddlers rushed in and I handed each of them a cookie and directed their oldest sister to put on a Christmas video. Her emotional antenna must have sensed something too, as she willingly complied and didn’t complain that she didn’t also merit a cookie. I brought him to my room and then to be doubly secure, I locked the door and sat against it.

“Two kids at school told me about where the presents come at Christmas. “ He looked at me and his face was holding the broken grief of childhood prematurely spoiled in one of the smallest of ways, but keenly felt nevertheless. My mom persona felt herself divided into three. The comforter wanted to hold and rock and sing and sooth. The sentimentalist wanted either to lie or to mourn the loss. The Klingon warrior wanted to hunt down those fools and their fool parents and flay them where they stood.

We talked about the real meaning of Christmas; about the miracle of the story that has been told and retold and retold and retold and how it continues to beguile and yet hold generation after generation. The story of Saint Nicholas has come to bring more people to Christ than could possibly be imagined by any of those who thought the story merely a slice of silly pop culture that pushed consumerism. We talked about how important it was to be wise with knowledge, and that the child that told him and others was neither kind nor wise, though he had the opportunity to be both.

My son picked up his new knowledge like a soldier. He let me hold him. I let him decide not to cry but that his eyes bothered him a bit. I told him, “Me too.” That was about all the time we had for a heart to heart before the toddlers, having burned through two more cookies each, decided it was time to find Mom again. My son gave me a brave smile and went out to talk to his younger brother about hanging stockings. He gave me a knowing look as his brother’s eyes lit up like sparklers. “Come on Johnny, we have to find everyone’s stockings!” he announced and the two were off on a brother treasure hunt Christmas style.

It was hard to make dinner now but I plowed through it. Everyone ate. The little ones got bathed and read to and tucked into bed. A song came on the radio, a Christmas song from the Polar Express, and suddenly, the very real feeling of the belief that had just evaporated hurt so hard for me, I felt angry for feeling this intense. My son had resolved the issue better than me I thought. I went upstairs to do the final check of lights out. My son was still up, sitting in the dark not crying. I rubbed his feet and he asked for extra hugs. Some of them felt like he was afraid to let go, for fear some other pillar of childhood might get kicked out from under him if he wasn’t careful.

“I talked to your father about what happened.”
“What did he say?”

“He said to tell you, “He still believes, and so should you.” The squeeze I got back was glorious. “I know what that really means Mom.” He said.

The euphoria of the moment was somewhat interrupted when I spied three drawings on the floor. My son is an artist, always making comic books. Here, graphically illustrated, Boba Fett and several Star Wars Jedi my untrained eyes could not identify, have locked two boys on the island of Misfit Toys. “You have spread bad stories about Santa Claus. Here you will stay and cause no more trouble.” While another jedi, possibly my son, stands by with a thought bubble “Heh heh heh.” The spotted elephant and Charlie the Clown don’t look very friendly to the prisoners. The King of the Toys growls at them.

Justice kid style. I feel better. “Can I keep these?” I ask.
“Sure Mom.”

One more strong squeeze.
“Merry Christmas Son.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Twelve Days of Adkins

Reflections on My ongoing Adkins Experience. A Dieter's Diary and attempt to twist reality to fit a theme...more or less.

Day 1 On the first day of Adkins, here's what I had to eat...well, it wasn't a partridge in a pear tree, but it was chicken and salad. By the end of the day, I’m snappish, Husband asks about biology. Snarl “No” and go to fume while munching a piece of cheddar. I feel stale already.

Day 2 Huzzah, I lost three pounds. A quick calculation and I’ll be at my desired weight at current course and speed in ten days… Bring on those two turtle doves! Suddenly, No Carb conversion diet seems completely reasonable and of course I’ll stick with it.

Day 3 What gives? I only lost a pound? Did I eat any carbs yesterday? Okay, I forgot and drank six ounces of milk but that’s not like seriously going to keep me from losing is it? That’s so unfair. Resolve to stick with it, after all, I’m on day 3 and I’ve lost four, so I’m one up on the day. Three French hens please. Begin to see how ubiquitous carbo snacks have become in everyday life. I can’t buy a stamp without passing a candy bar!

Day 4 Now taking to weighing twice a day. Did I lose weight yet? Did I lose weight yet? Severe frustration at self for accidentally popping a strawberry, I actually spit it out. Baked four calling birds yesterday to allow for easy snacks tomorrow. Wonder if it is worth it.

Day 5 Five pounds are gone! But the days of meats greens…meat…greens…switching to seafood to have variety. Had to order at the golden arches today...that was...difficult. Desperately want to break a new barrier but have stopped talking about diet for fear someone will ask “How much did you lose?” and begin telling me how they dropped 25 the first week. Lost one more pound, somehow feel cheated.

Day 6 I miss orange juice. Very tired of the six geese a laying eggs for breakfast. Reflect on reality that if I had lost one pound each day, I would have been far more satisfied with the diet than losing three, one and then nothing and then one again. Also worry about catching scurvy. Consider branding the diet man a hack, but afraid to stop for fear five pounds are just waiting to hop back on my hips.

Day 7 Breath smells faintly of cheese even after brushing. Burps have a meaty aftertaste. Ate the swimming swans today..well not really, but man oh man am I sick of chicken and tuna salad. Staring longingly at children’s lunches, a carb fest of refined sugar –an apple, white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwich and chocolate milk. Begin trolling diet aisles for the pseudo chocolate bars that will substitute for Chocolate. Can’t find any that fit in the diet in this part of the regimen. Nuts. I’m eating nuts. If you are what you eat…

Day 8 Okay. Seem to have plateaued diet wise. Now considering the radical concept of going to the gym. I even drove there. The gym had eight women from the La Leche league holding a get in shape membership drive for post partum women. I had actually packed gym clothes in a tote and put them in the back of the car, complete with walkman, but I didn't want to run the gauntlet with my crew toting bottles. Went home and did push ups.

Day 9 Considering switching to South beach. Diet Coke isn't even sending me anymore. Even forbidden grapefruit looks so good, it’s scary. Lost one pound. Becoming annoyed. This diet feels dial up, not broadband. Have trained family to squawk if I weaken, so nine pipers pipe up if I try to cheat.

Day 10 Have decided Low Carb plans are Man diets. Begin promising God to stick to exercise regimen if someone will give me half a blueberry. What’s for breakfast? Eggs. What’s for lunch? Salad and Meat. What’s for dinner, Salad and More Meat. Log on to website for testimonials to keep me in lockstep with the routine. Ten emails later, I'm sufficiently bolstered to march on.

Day 11 Reflecting on the diet rules and their implications. What exactly is a carb? I mean how is it defined –how are foods divided such that one can portion a candy bar in small pieces and get only seven carbs as versus the entire 17 in the goodie. How many carbs in an onz of milk? Some french bread? Banannas? Maple Syrup? Chocolate Five Star Bars? Ice Cream? Pasta Alfredo? Salt and Vinegar Chips, cold cereal for crying out loud! Not that I’m considering eating any of these things. They’re for a friend. This lady's dancing with the idea of reintroducing carbs, but my brain has already figured out how I could eat the bad stuff...nah nah nah...can't hear me..not listening...going to stay on the diet...where's my cheese stick. I love cheese sticks....and shrimp coctail at ten in the morning...wondering if we can fiscally afford to keep me on a diet.

Day 12 What?
It's just steak for breakfast.
I couldn't take one more day of eggs. No I will not share.

You guys get to eat pancakes and toast and bagels and oatmeal and cantelope and blackberries, milk, doughnuts and apple juice.

I am offered every possible carb sin, as half the family still likes the idea of being food police, and the other half is ready to sell out for a few pieces of sirloin. There are Lords a leaping as a I cut up my breakfast and portion it out to the assorted heathens. Pieces of appeasement to achieve morning peace. Guess I'll have some more eggs.

There is a dietary mutiny afoot.
Shouldn't have lorded that fact over them.(Sigh).

I made it.
I'm not sure what was harder, sticking to the diet or sticking all of this into my preselected format.

Tune in next time when I try once more to mix two or even three improbable things, from History, Philosophy, English Literature and domestic family life, politics and religion, all for the sole purpose of creating humor and insight.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Shoes Redux

If you visited this blog last year, you got my teeing off on this perenial Halmark card version of a Christmas song.

"Christmas Shoes."

It's Dickensian without the charm. It's cloy. I feel like my teeth need a good brushing whenever it comes on, but I also recognize the innocent nature of my children and have tried very hard not to expose my children to my extreme prejudice against this particular musical piece of treacle.

Alas, I have not been successful, at least with the older ones.

My oldest sings it with a mock such that even I have had to tell him to knock it off.

My next eldest is rather like me in temperment. She likewise thinks the song is over the top. It was a source of particular frustration for her when she learned she would have to watch the movie version (my own mind shudders) at school.

She then felt pained as she had to write about what it meant. I pared it down with her in a discussion.

"I know what you think of the song, but that's not what the assignment is. Just write what's it supposed to mean. What does it want to tell?"

"That we should be generous of spirit and help those around us in need rather than focus on buying what we want."

"Yes. Write that."

"Well, they didn't do a very good job." She pouted.
(It is difficult to try to be supportive of an assignment when one is mentally going "YES! HIGH FIVE!" inside).

"Well, you write a better song."

"I will."

My third knows I don't like it, so she just changes the station. (A very sensible child handling her mother well).

The fourth, the little stinker, who has just matriculated to the "older kid set," claims he LOVES the song and demands that the song not only be allowed to play but turned up. He challenges me, "What's so wrong with it?"

If I didn't know how this kid worked, I'd be in trouble. He decided pink is a boy's color just to tork off his younger brother. He's crafty. If it drives you nuts, he loves it. But he has a weak spot.

He also has things he finds unbearable, like Caiou videos. He has even drawn a picture of the cartoon four year old with commentary. "The kid is four years old. Why is he bald?" The picture shows the sad Caiou in shackles with the police congratulating my son on bringing him in and making the world a safer place.

When he cranked the song last time, I told him to expect Caiou videos for Christmas. He had the grace to laugh and turn it down.

The younger set doesn't really know about this battle over a single Christmas carol an I intend to keep it that way.

Having recently put a radio in my daughter's room so she could hear music at night, she called me in to listen to Christmas shoes. "It's really pretty." she said. "And sad. But it's good in the end." This firecracker sunflower child of mine was the only one who was earnest in her love of the song. "I'm glad you like it." I said and kissed her forehead.

Getting sentimental in my middle age or wiser, I'm not sure but I issued two edicts to my older children. "No mocking any Christmas songs." and "You can like or not like whatever songs you wish."

Merry Christmas.

p.s. I still don't like the song.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We're in trouble. They're paying attention.

It has been a rough month and a half at this house, with our youngest being at the hospital for 41 days. When we were in the home stretch, the strength of some of our children to endure the prolonged absence of their mother began to ebb. Our own patience with the situation had been taxed as well.

Driving me back to the hospital one Sunday, my six year old said, "Pretend you aren't going to the hospital." We explained that I had to return to keep an eye on her baby brother. "Yes, but what if you didn't?" she insisted. After multiple attempts to explain the situation, her father finally said, "This is not a fantasy. No pretending. This is real. No pretending in the car." It was a bit over the top, but we had run through the conversation several times trying to address her sadness and at the same time, explain the problem.

The kids began to squabble amongst themselves. One sought to tattle.

"Just pretend there's a wall of glass right here between the first row and the back." Their father waved his hand.

"Now Daddy, there's no pretending in this car." the six year old piped up.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Adding to the Season, the Sweet Scent of Pope Pius the IX

A friend of mine sent this actual ad to me in an email. I’m leaving her comments here.
The Pope's Cologne http://www.thepopescologne.com/

Of course, I recommend better marketing - you know, something like, "Impress your colleagues with an air of infallibility."

or "The Pope's Cologne - The chaste alternative to Axe Body Spray."
or "The Pope's Cologne, for that saintly, yet embalmed aura."

My thoughts were, “When you care enough to smell your very blessed.” And who e

xactly am I trying to attract here?

It’s a complicated situation. One hopes the creators of this fragrance are sincere in their faith. One hopes their marketing campaign stems from the belief that the world needs more people who have the whiff of papal like devotion in their lives, and who seek encouragement on their path to holiness in all things. And yet, this feels similar to finding religious devotion via eating Cheetos. It might happen. It could happen. It's just...like Cheetos, a bit Cheesy, corny and feels artificial.

I do not hope this is a mock, but it is severely testing to think so when the advertisement is “You won’t go wrong with this Christmas Gift! Cologne of Pope Pius IX It’s authentic, historic, refreshing, even infallible …Believe it.”

I even questioned posting this piece because it felt so I don't know, insane.
Then I got a spam based comment.

"Pope's Cologne is indeed authentic. Made from the private formula of Pope Pius IX. It is a cologne in the Old World style of the nineteenth century and provides an intersting insight into the fashions and tastes of aristocrats of that era. In addition it is an eminently fresh, engaging wearable fragrance. A glowing review of it was written by perfume critic Marie-Helene Wagmer and can be found online at TheScentedSalamander.com..."

What insight can be gleamed from wearing a cologne of a 19th century man other than the fact that 19th century men needed to have cologne? And then there's the idea that Salamanders that smell should be viewed as authorities on the wearableness of a perfume. Now maybe if it had been Newt...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One Sentence Movie Reviews

We may or may not be getting out of the hospital today. I am waiting on a report. In the meantime, my computer is not able to go online, and thus any writing is the result of impromptu material generated on the screen at the hospital. It is much harder to create material this way.

Given my logistical issues and the notion that brevity is the soul of wit, I introduce a new concept here: one sentence movie reviews.

In this age of high speed high octane fuel paced living, people don't have time to read an informed and well written report on all the films out there that might or might not be worth viewing. Thus, as a public service, I put forth these not quite haiku reviews. Please note, in some cases, I haven't seen the movie.

Wall-E: It takes a robot to save a village.

Finding Nemo: It's the Odyssey for fish.

Star Trek 5, Star Trek TNG: Either Rebellion or Nemesis: If you film it, they will come.

The Greatest Story Ever Told: Well yes, but not by you.

Troy: Orlando Bloom does for Greeks and the people of Illium what he did for elves and pirates.

Beowulf: Not enough mead or Angelina Jolie to satiate fans of either.

Quantum of Solace: Because when people think James Bond, the first thing that comes to mind is a measurement used in physics.

So fire up the microwave and try coming up with your own one sentence movie reviews. It's fun, free and decidedly more creative than what's coming out of Hollywood these days.

Here's hoping Paul and I are back home soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hitting a Nerve

If I ever suffer from writer's block, I just have to call my insurance.

My middle son has a deep cavity in a permanent tooth. It requires a root canal. The problem is, he's nine.

We've been to the family dentist, the pediatric dentist, the endodontist,and the orthodontist. I've called dental clinics and oral surgeons. None of the pediatric dentists want to touch a permanent tooth. None of the dentists for adults want to do surgery on a kid. Those that do root canal aren't on the provider's list.

Finally, in frustration, I called my insurance "help" line.

"I've seen four different specialists and called fifteen more." I explained.

"My computer shows there are sixty three in the twenty-five mile radius of your home."

"Yes, but I've called a quarter of them and had no takers. What do I do if I get through all 63?"

"We can expand the radius to 75 miles."

"You mean I have to call all 63? I was sort of joking..."

"If you want a provider in network, I'm sure you'll find one before you get through them all."

"Wait. You have the list right? And presumably, I'm not the first human being to call you to ask for a specialist who will do a root canal on a permanent tooth on a minor with sedation, not laughing gas."


"Then can you check your records and give me some names of those people?"


"Why not?"

"I'd have to have the social securirty numbers of those people."

"No. No. All you'ld have to do is call whoever cuts the checks for the benefits and have them do a search of payments to oral surgeons for root canals and then check to see if they were done for minors. I can't believe it's this inaccessible."

"Well, I don't have access."
"Who does?"
"Look, just start calling...."

"No. I want to know when we hit critical mass. I want to know at what point can we say I fought the good fight and just find someone?"

"You can do that, but it will be out of network."

The circle conversation had started again so I hung up and started dialing.

"We do root canals, but your insurance doesn't pay for the anestesia."

"But it's a root canal surgery. You have to have anestesia."


"I'm wondering at this point which is more painful, a root canal with out medication or trying to set this damn thing up."

"You could call your insurance and ask."

I may start self medicating soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Traditions Take Flight

The making of Christmas family traditions can happen from the most unexpected of circumstances. My second son has a birthday in July. Every year, his father buys him rockets or planes, something they can fly outside at the beach or the park. The first year, everyone got balsa wood planes and we launched them at the beach, having a contest. His father then lit bottle rockets as part of the celebration and a prescident was set.

The following summer, we had a Superman theme, complete with a Kryptonian rocket that floated back down into the grassy dunes several times before being lost at sea. Over the years, my son has received a 365 paper airplane calendar. I can't tell you how many helicopters I had to rescue from the second floor ledge. He's had do it yourself models that were light years beyond our ability to assemble. We've visited the Air and Space museum and fed his love of the sky with Starwars and Star Trek.

But the big gift that tickled his heart the most, was a remote controlled plane. It was big and blue and had four propellers.

There was a long lecture prior to going outside about how careful one had to be with this sort of toy; how flying a remote plane was difficult; how houses and trees and wires had to be avoided; and how wind could play a tricky part in landing a plane. My son listened carefully. Dad explained that he would test the plane first to better help our son with managing it. The plane soared beautifully. It was a thrilling sight. Then it landed on top of the tallest tree in our yard. Its first and only flight ended two minutes after it's start. My husband felt terrible. We tried everything to get it down. The plane finally crashed to Earth, a shell of it's former glory, a year later.

Undaunted, the next year, my son received two remote planes. One was black and had propellers in the back. The other was red and looked like a jet. My son lectured my father before trusting him to fly the red one while he tested the black. The red one flew beautifully again. One. Two. Three flights and then the sojourn into the back woods. We saw it disappear over the tree tops. The black one in the meantime, found the blue plane tree but we were able to knock it down through subsequent throws of soccer and footballs.

A neighborhood kid who also flies planes and launches rockets returned the red plane to us in early fall. It too, bore the scars of sitting through a season of elements in a tree.

Now my middle son often expresses himself through deeds rather than words. He's approached me about purchasing Dad his own propeller plane for Christmas. "But," he grinned, mischief in his eyes,"I get to test it first."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Not to Give Men For Christmas

For all the vaulted theory that men hold the power in this society, they really get the short end of the stick when it comes to gifts.

Let's consider the average mall. It has two beauty parlors, one spa, two places for nails, seven to eight women's shoes stores, three big department stores with five women's sections and fifteen to twenty specialty stores catering to women's clothing from hair accessories to evening gowns to yoga pants. The stores often use aroma therapy, and smell like vanilla bean, roses or fresh baked cookies.

The same mall will have two shoe stores that specialize in kids and adult sneakers, one barber shop and a shop for renting tuxedos and buying suits, all in the "old" section of the mall, all in tan or dull green colors. The stores for men often have a faint musty smell, reminiscent of the reference section of a library.

The woman stores have names like "Mixed Emotion," "Petite Treasures" and "Uncommon Threads." The men's stores are "Today's Man," "The Men Store" and "Big and Tall."

At Christmas, the women's stores will trim their windows with lights, hand out chocolates at the cash register and drape elegant gowns with holly or gold ribbon. The men stores put cheap Santa hats on the manikins.

Even the higher end stores that try to market "What to buy" for a man have a static quality to them. How many massaging machines or movie replica sword shaped letter openers can one buy before they seem old? James Bond stuff tends to feel anemic and dated, like watching Roger Moore rather than Daniel Craig. Funny Ha ha books on current events will gather dust after a single read through and leather bound elegant copies of the last installment of Harry Potter are just sad cries for help.

Watching even a smidgeon of television during the weeks from November 1st to January, one is inundated with the idea that women want two things this Christmas season, cars and diamonds. Watching the same television during those three month, one comes away with the idea that what men really want for Christmas is for women to get cars and diamonds.

So let's get to the issue at hand. What to buy men for Christmas is not something that can be answered through a simple list. What not to buy however, can. So here are my tips for what Not to buy men for Christmas.

10) Dress or sport socks and underwear packs: These are not gifts. These are necessities. They can be wrapped up in the most beautiful of boxes with tissues and ribbons. They are sill just socks and undies.

9) Cooking pots and pans or tools we don't actually already know how to use. Bread machines, fondue pots, mandolin slicers, these are things that we will have to spend time reading instructions in order to operate. Most men spend much of Christmas Eve reading assembly instructions, so having to do it after opening a gift doesn't contribute to a festive mood. Also, though it might have escaped notice, most men are not big fondue eaters.

8) Any box of chocolate that must be shared or surrendered.

7) Summertime yard tools. My husband can weed whack with the best of them. But having a summertime toy in the dead of winter means he has to wait six months to play with it. That's one of those, it's the thought that counts sort of moments that makes a guy wonder, "What do I have to do to get some thought around here?"

6) Gag gifts. Most men are not twelve years old, even in spirit. Dancing Elvis Santas, singing fish, not a good plan. Ever.

5) Budget busters. It's fun to splurge. I admit, if I get in a shopping zone, it's hard to stop seeing great things that I think would tickle and delight those I love and that includes my husband. But the one thing one doesn't want a man thinking when he opens a gift is "How much is this going to set us back?" If you agreed to a budget, stick to it. Draw or write up the dream idea to save up for, and maybe supply an account where the money will go to make it happen, but don't force the issue by preemptively purchasing a sofa or a table or a trip, using the sentiment of the holiday to justify the expense. Doing this sort of gift giving is essentially a holiday hold up.

4) Anything he'd feel embarrassed to tell his mother over the phone he got for Christmas. Anything you'ld feel embarrassed if he told his mother he got from you for Christmas. Give stuff, just not stuffing. No naming a star after him. No purchases from infomertials and nothing that feels like pure filler like toothbrushes or a shoe shining kit.

3) Unless he's been asking specifically or already is into it personally, fitness equipment or gym memberships strike a wrong note. This is like them saying to us, "Merry Christmas! Drop and give me twenty! Your arms look like flabby pink sausages! Move! Move! Move!" Put another way, would any of us appreciate a gift membership to Jenny Craig?

2) Bombshell life changing events like an undiscussed acquisition of a dog, horse or beach house time share. Surprises at Christmas are fun but not if they should have been vetted or seen a vet before purchasing.

The history of men's gifts is so replete with stories of sheer terrors and errors that it generated a now seasonal phrase: "Many happy returns."

The number one thing men should not receive for Christmas is the impression that they were an afterthought. Men should not feel that they came after the kids, tree, Christmas cards, stockings, new Christmas dress, plan for the Christmas Eve meal, wrapping, outside display, Santa treats, toy for the dog and bonus check for the garbage man. They deserve better than last minute ties and wallets and engraved money clips. They deserve to be celebrated with warm pie and good steak, with the movie of their choice and a bathrobe that doesn't predate two administrations. They need color and fireworks and music and sports, wine and foot rubs, kisses and books you know they've been wanting, all wrapped up in warmth with heavy bows of thought tied on top.

The point is, that men require as much thought and devotion as we as women hope to receive ourselves and want to give to our families. Good luck to us all, finding that something that reveals this truth. Maybe a diamond or a car...that might do it.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!